claimholder from New York state named Almanzo JamesnWilder on August 25, 1885, moved with him to Minnesota,nthen to Florida, and lastly to Missouri, where they purchasedna 40-acre farm. Although Laura produced twonchildren within the first two years of her marriage, only thenfirst — a daughter. Rose — survived, a son having died innspasms at the age of a few weeks. Rose Wilder Lane becamena world-famous author; her mother, having establishednherself as a supremely competent farmer’s wife and businessnwoman, in her mid-40’s began writing for the farm papersnand some national magazines. A collection of over 140 ofnher pieces has recently been published by Thomas Nelson,nInc., of Nashville, Tennessee, as Little House in the Ozarks,nedited by Stephen W. Hines. These articles — none ofnthem very long and many hardly more than a paragraph orntwo — appear to be the work of a strong but highlynconventional mind. They provide no hint whatever of thenwork that was to result when Laura Wilder, in her eariy 60’s,nbegan to write the story of her childhood and early youth innthe orange school tablets she bought at a nickel apiece fromna grocer in Springfield, Missouri. Fifteen years before, in anletter to Almanzo from San Francisco where she was visitingnRose, she had remarked, “I intend to try to do some writingnthat will count.”nAppearing first in 1932, Little House in the Big Woodsnachieved instant acclaim and immediate popularity. Itsntiming was perfect, though almost surely not considered (atnleast, not consciously). Nearly everywhere, the old Americanhad been supplanted by the new one — the product ofnprogress-and of science, of industrial capitalism, the NewnNationalism and the new internationalism. Big Business,nboosterism. One Hundred Percent Efficiency, mass advertisingnand mass production, and wave upon wave of thosenhuddled masses from abroad yearning to breathe free — andnalmost everywhere also that new Arrierica lay in ruins.nWhile Mrs. Wilder, as a former hardscrabble pioneer girl,nwas certainly not opposed to “progress” and “modernnconveniences” (“Then there is the gasoline engine,” shenhad written in 1911 in a column titled “The March ofnProgress.” “Bless it!”), an implicit criticism of dependencynon modern technology is perceptible throughout her books,nand so is the (also implicit) suggestion that the old ways werensomehow better, not just because they were simpler butnbecause they helped develop character and moral stamina.nBy the time she came to write about life on the Americannfrontier, Laura Wilder was far too wise a woman to indulgenherself in nostalgia, and far too fine an artist to spoil her worknwith it. Nevertheless, her view of the past was cleariynaffected by what contemporary America had become, whilenher vividly immediate, tough-minded, and unsentimentalnportrayal of that past could not help but appeal to nostalgicnsentimentalism by the historical juxtaposition of its content,nas well as by the warmth and complete humanity of itsnpresentation.nAt the age of 65, Laura Ingalls Wilder was a celebritynwith her first book, and there were yet six more to go (notnincluding Farmer Boy, the story of her husband’s boyhoodnand her third published book, and The First Four Years, annaccount of the dreadful ordeals suffered by her and Almanzonearly in their marriage that is, however, the posthumouslynpublished first draft of what would surely have been a farnlonger and more complete work). But that Little House innthe Big Woods was a book for children only, nobody seemednto question.n”Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in thenBig Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made ofnlogs.” That is the very first line of the book, and certainly itnappears to establish what follows as a work of children’snliterature; though James Joyce, 16 years earlier, had publishednhis fine Modernist art novel, A Portrait of the Artist asna Young Man, which begins this way: “Once upon a timenand a very good time it was there was a moocow comingndown the road and this moocow that was down along thenroad met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo. . . .” Thensecond sentence of Big Woods, which also starts a newnparagraph, is this; “The great, dark trees of the Big Woodsnstood all around the house, and beyond them were otherntrees and beyond them were more trees.” How could angeneration of readers, supposedly sophisticated in the preceptsnof Modernism, one of which was that the “primitive”nand the “childish” are actually modes of a deeper insight,nhave failed to find echoes, on this first page, of SherwoodnAnderson and Ernest Hemingway? Nor, 11 pages later, didnthe following passage — actually a highly sophisticated examplenof the Modernist poetry with which this book isnreplete — alert those early readers of Mrs. Wilder’s worknwho determined how it would be read and accepted for thennext sixty years: “Onions were made into long ropes,nbraided together by their tops, and then were hung in thenattic beside wreaths of red peppers strung on threads. Thenpumpkins and the squashes were piled in orange and yellownand green heaps in the attic’s corners.”nLittle House on the Prairie was published three years afternLittle House in the Big Woods. When Big Woods opens,nLaura is about four-and-a-half years old; as the secondnbegins, she appears to be around six. (This is my reckoningnfrom the text; although in 1870, when the Ingalls moved tonKansas, Laura was three.) And here are the first twonsentences comprising the first paragraph of the new book:n”A long time ago, when all the grandfathers and grandmothersnof today were little boys and girls or very smallnbabies, or perhaps not even born. Pa and Ma and Mary andnLaura and Baby Carrie left their litde house in the BignWoods of Wisconsin. They drove away and left it lonely andnempty in the clearing among the big trees, and they nevernsaw that little house again.” As Laura grows older, hernconsciousness expands to embrace concepts like time andnthe human generations and loss; it becomes more complex,nand the change is both reflected by, and embodied in, thenwriting. Such writing need not be lost on children but itncertainly isn’t for them. I have been acquainted with Mrs.nWilder’s books since I was five years old, and I still read hernwith greater pleasure and emotion and appreciation thannany other author I can think of To adapt a saying ofnGertrude Stein’s, “There is all there there.” You will find allnof life in Laura Ingalls Wilder except war, and in herntremendous description of the pow-wow on the VerdigrisnRiver in Kansas in which the Indians debated whether tonscalp the white settlers, even war comes very close. Her lifenwas the experience not just of the West but of the UnitednStates itself, and her humanity was that of a great artist and annnNOVEMBER 1991/21n